Going into round one, the Indiana Pacers seemed like a lock to cruise through the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards were the biggest underdog of a five seed in a long time. Two weeks later and we’re now looking at a Pacers team who barely scraped their way to a win in seven and a Wizards team who made the Bulls look like a team that had no business making the playoffs, let alone with any sort of home court advantage.
It’s almost not even worth talking about the regular season numbers since everything is basically out the window at this point, but the Pacers were known for their stifling defense prior to the playoffs. That held true against the Wizards, as the Pacers held them to under 77 points/game in their three meetings. Then again, the Wizards played a better defense in the first round and had no problem scoring at all.
The Pacers are beaten down right now. Yes, they won the series, but come on, they beat the Hawks, who barely scraped their way into the playoffs. This team looked absolutely terrible in the first round and certainly not like a number one seed. They’re going to have to find a way to play better and play better from the start if they’re going to make it through this series alive.
Keys to the Series
- Keep home court advantage. They say it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you come out on top four times, but I don’t think Frank Vogel would agree. After dropping the first game at home and game five at home, the Pacers looked extremely vulnerable.
- Keep Stephenson on Beal at all times. Beal shot 45% from deep against the Bulls and averaged 19.8 points/game. His offense was a huge reason why the Wizards were able to dominate Chicago’s previously dominant defense. Beal will be the best shooter on the floor during this series, and Stephenson is a lock-down on-ball defender with the ability to stop even the most dynamic scorers. The Wizards are going to run screen after screen to get Beal space. If the Pacers are able to keep Stephenson on Beal, that’ll go a long way towards slowing down the Wizards’ offense.
- Exploit George Hill. Hill is going to have a heck of a time trying to play defense against the Wizards in this series. He’s nowhere near fast enough to keep up with Wall (though few players are) and he’s not big enough or skilled enough in the post to really mark Andre Miller. The Wizards always run a good chunk of their offense through their guards, so this shouldn’t even be an issue, but with the strong defense from the Pacers’ bigs, offense is going to have to come against Hill in bunches.
- Space the floor with Nene. Hibbert had more struggles than anyone in round one and he’s at his most vulnerable when he’s away from the hoop. Nene was able to punish Joakim Noah (a much more versatile defender than Hibbert) with his jump shot, so if he’s able to do more of the same against the Pacers, that should open the floor for Wall to get into the paint without being shut down by Hibbert’s length.
Trevor Ariza – With back-to-back games of 30 points and 6 points against the Bulls, Ariza continues solidifying his reputation as one of the streakiest players in the NBA. He’s either going to shoot 60% from beyond the arc or 28% (like he did over the last 8 games of the season). If he’s able to find a way to be on his offensive game for the entire series, the Wizards are going to be a much bigger threat than if Ariza is cold.
Pacers in 6
While many are down on the Pacers after their dreadful first round, they’re still a much more talented team than the Wizards. They won’t have an easy time in this series by any means, but in the end Hibbert will find a way to be at least somewhat relevant and the defense of the Pacers will be enough to slow down the Wizards. It’s been a good NBA playoffs run for Wall and company, but it comes to an end before the Eastern Conference Finals.